Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Brainless Leftist fools

Negus should have known better. He is a current affairs journalist and interviewer from way back -- but his Leftism has always been obvious. Putting him in front of the Taliban might rearrange his attitudes somewhat

HE'S one of the nation's greatest war heroes, receiving a Victoria Cross for single-handedly storming a Taliban bunker manned with machine-gunners.

They host a lightweight morning gossip show. Now the hosts of The Circle are under heavy fire after airing a photo of a shirtless Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith and calling him brainless.

Among the giggling troupe was veteran journalist George Negus, who laid the astounding sledge that Cpl Roberts-Smith "he could be a dud root".

Just a day earlier, Cpl Roberts-Smith had appeared on Sunday Night for a candid interview about how he and his wife had used IVF treatment to conceive their twin daughters.

Those daughters were just five months old when Cpl Roberts-Smith stood up to draw machine-gun fire towards himself near the village of Tizak in Afghanistan's Kandahar province. That allowed his commander to lob a grenade in the Taliban bunker.

Cpl Roberts-Smith then stormed the bunker alone and killed the two Taliban members inside. His actions allowed the troops to move through and clear the village of Taliban soldiers.

It also saw him become only the second person to be awarded the Victoria Cross for Australia, after it was established in 1991

"I'm sure he's a really good guy, nothing about poor old Ben," Negus said yesterday on The Circle where he was guest co-hosting at the time of the comment. "But that sort of bloke, and what if they're not up to it in the sack?"

Former Channel [V] host Yumi Stynes chimed in on the picture of Cpl Roberts-Smith poolside with: "He's going to dive down to the bottom of the pool to see if his brain is there."

This morning and back on the air Stynes revealed she was getting married, leading some online commenters to suggest it was a stunt to distract from a growing backlash over yesterday's comments.

Yesterday The Circle made an apology on its Facebook page: "Gotta love live T.V.!," the apology read. "What started out as an innocent admiration of one of Australia’s heroes today unfortunately ended up changing direction. "I hope you all know us well enough by now to know that we would never set out to upset anyone. "Your feedback is very important to us and we appreciate your input on a daily basis. "So sorry if we offended any of you today."

SOURCE. More reactions here

Conservatives target free speech restrictions in racial discrimination laws

FREE speech restrictions in racial discrimination laws would be wound back under a federal coalition government.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has revealed the plan to change the laws if he was made prime minister.

The plan would see sections of the Racial Discrimination Act that were used to prosecute Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt last year, after he wrote about light-skinned Aborigines, repealed by the Coalition.

The Australian newspaper reports Shadow Attorney-General George Brandis saying that would mean the removal of provisions that prevent the use of words that could offend or insult.

"We consider that to be an inappropriate limitation on freedom of speech and freedom of public discussion – as was evident in the Andrew Bolt case," he said.

"Offensive and insulting words are part of the robust democratic process which is essential to a free country."

The changes would bring the Act's restrictions on free speech closer to limits found in defamation laws, The Australian reports.

Liability for racial vilification would be limited to comments that humiliate or intimidate.


The Speaker of the House shuts Julia up

It was tempting to rush out and scan the sky for a blue moon or flying pork. The Speaker had ordered Prime Minister Julia Gillard to clam up and sit down. His reason? She was being irrelevant. No one could remember the like of it.

Prime ministers and their ministers have traditionally spent large portions of every question time avoiding what most people would recognise as a semblance of relevance in responding to questions.

The Speaker, Peter Slipper, has the quaint view that questions should be answered.

Resplendent in black robe, white bow tie and barrister's tabs, fresh from his latest ceremonial procession to the House, Mr Slipper decided to enforce his edict at the first opportunity yesterday.

His mood was possibly sharpened by the appearance of the fellow he replaced as Speaker, Harry Jenkins, sporting his own silvery bow tie. The view around Parliament was that Mr Jenkins was gently taking the mickey.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott opened combat with his favourite subject: reminding Ms Gillard that she had promised during the last election campaign that there would be no carbon tax. Now she was introducing just such a tax and had admitted she had made mistakes she regretted, would she "rescind her deception" and put aside the tax until she took it to the next election?

Mr Slipper ordered Mr Abbott to withdraw the word "deception". But when Ms Gillard launched into her answer the full might of the Speaker was exerted.

"Putting a price on carbon was the right thing to do and I stand by it," Ms Gillard began, her eyes turning flinty in the style she has assumed following the Great Unpleasantness of the past week.

And then, in her well-practised manner, Ms Gillard turned the question on its head and got stuck into the opposition, declaring that Coalition MPs might like to explain why they had promised to introduce a price on carbon during the 2007 election campaign. As she reached full throttle, Mr Slipper called for her to be "directly relevant" to the question.

Ms Gillard sailed on, and the Speaker hollered again for her to get back to the subject at hand.

The Prime Minister, who appeared to have been studying Meryl Streep's Oscar-winning depiction of Maggie Thatcher in The Iron Lady, wasn't for turning. It was a battle of wills.

Mr Slipper triumphed. He simply turned off the Prime Minister's microphone, told her she would no longer be heard and sat her down.

Ms Gillard appeared thunderstruck. Speakers in the past have found themselves defrocked for lesser slights to a prime minister's dignity.

But Mr Slipper pretty clearly knows Ms Gillard can't afford to have him back on the benches voting with the Coalition. She needs him exactly where he is, and he is free to behave as independently as he likes. Which, it appears, is quite a lot.


One reason why 39% of Australian teenagers are sent to private high schools

Both episodes below occured at government schools

A BULLIED teenager who suffered horrific injuries when he attempted suicide has died more than two years after his tormenters drove him to despair.

Dakoda-Lee Stainer, 14, suffered brain damage when deprived of oxygen for more than 20 minutes after he tried to take his own life in 2009 following severe bullying.

Left in a wheelchair, unable to speak or walk, and taking food and liquids through a tube to his stomach, the teen died on Valentine's Day this year.

After Dakoda-Lee's tragic story was revealed in The Daily Telegraph last year, close family friends launched a campaign against bullying of the kind that drove the north coast teenager to try to end his life.

Sharon Grady of Yarravel, near Kempsey, yesterday said no one deserved the treatment Dakoda-Lee had suffered, but bullying was still happening. "We have now lost this precious, loving and caring young man who was talented in so many areas," Ms Grady said.

On the day he tried to end his life, the teen, who attended Melville High School at Kempsey, had been accosted by a gang of youths on the school bus after months of relentless attacks by bullies.

About a year earlier another 14-year-old, Alex Wildman, took his own life at Lismore after violent run-ins with fellow students, forcing education authorities to investigate how effectively schools were combating bullying.

Alex's stepfather, Bill Kelly, is suing the Department of Education and Communities for damages, claiming it breached its duty of care to the student.

A major offensive against cyber bullying has been launched in schools.

It involves graphic videos showing the dangers of online bullying designed to frighten students out of using the internet as a weapon to attack other children.

The graphic films, using male and female teenage actors to depict savage bullying scenarios, are so realistic they have shocked children into changing their online behaviour, parents and educators said.


Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Conservative cartoonist ZEG thinks there is still more strife to come in the Labor Party

Five reasons Aussies should feel smug

WE'RE not Greece, in case you were confused. I suppose our government's about as stable. But our collective fiscal funk has recently compelled Treasury supremo Martin Parkinson to point out this obvious geographical fact. So let's cut through the persistent gloom and doom and look at how our country stacks up.

1. Government debt and deficit

As a proportion of gross domestic product, the IMF says we owe 24 per cent. The US has racked up 100 per cent, Italy 120 per cent and Greece 152 per cent.

Yes we have a deficit - tiny by world standards. The IMF says it was minus 2.8 per cent in 2011 and the government has crossed its heart and hoped to (ahem) die that it will be a surplus by 2012-2013.

France's comparable figure was minus 5.7 per cent, Spain's minus 8 per cent and the US's - tut tut - minus 9.5 per cent. Greece's is ratcheting up so fast it will be wrong before I type it: the 2012 forecast is 6.7 per cent.

That country is now widely expected to default and Fitch's credit rating of "C" reflects it. Ours is "AAA".

2. Resources and economy

Remember we were the only Western nation that didn't go into recession during the global financial crisis. One of the reasons was mining.

An embarrassment of riches from resources means we can feed the insatiable industrialisation of developing Asia. Indeed, the governor of the Reserve Bank, Glenn Stevens, told Friday's parliamentary economics committee the boom is "still building" and "will take the share of business investment in GDP to its highest level for 50 years".

The mining tax - whatever you think of it - is designed to spread the proceeds.

Meanwhile, most commentators believe the EU is back in recession and Greece never climbed out of it.

3. Interest rates

Here they are relatively high on a world scale, precisely because our economy is strong and needs to be kept in check, but they're also far lower than they were in the 1980s.

As a consolation to mortgage holders, the RBA has a loaded gun if it needs to shoot its way out of another crisis. And if you are cashed up, you are laughing all the way to the proverbial.

4. Employment and wages

This is what's really making us uneasy. And it is hard to ignore headlines about mass redundancies in industries struggling due to factors like the high Australian dollar - for example, manufacturing - as they scramble to stay viable. Others - think retail and media - are under pressure because they're at the pointy end of dramatic consumption shifts.

But it's important to keep it in context. Unemployment last month actually fell slightly to 5.1 per cent, which boffins consider close to full employment. Although that is expected to tick up as global growth slows, some industries, like tourism and mining, are even reporting worker shortages.

Perhaps it's our comparatively cushy existence in Australia that causes us to fixate instead on cost-of-living pressures, however it seems we should stop our whinging. CommSec research using The Sydney Morning Herald archives shows we have far more purchasing power for goods - wages relative to prices - than our parents and grandparents 30, 40 or 50 years ago. Housing is another story.

Want a little more perspective? In Greece they're contending with unemployment of more than 20 per cent and a 22 per cent cut to the minimum wage.

5. Retirement

God bless super. As controversial as its introduction was - and however inadequate it ends up being - it's a salvation for our sunset years. What's more, it's in our names and our control. Many Greeks are instead getting 12 per cent wiped off their pensions.

So it seems Australians' confidence - which a global Nielsen survey of 56 markets has just found is the highest in the developed world - is justified.


Hold the hyperbole, Labor's problems are just same old same old

According to Barry Jones, a minister in the Hawke Labor government, the "current national situation" is at the lowest point he can recall. Writing in The Age on Saturday, he maintained that politics was worse today than when the ALP spilt in 1955, or when Arthur Calwell led Labor to a massive defeat in 1966, or when the governor-general John Kerr dismissed the Whitlam Labor government in 1975, or when Paul Keating lost to John Howard in 1996. As bad as that. He puts Labor's problems down to the inability of Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd to work together.

For the most part, this is an exaggeration. In 1955, Labor split primarily over its approach to communism. The Labor split led to the creation of the Democratic Labor Party - it gave first preferences to the Coalition and saved Robert Menzies and John Gorton from defeat in 1961 and 1969 respectively.

Calwell's defeat in 1966 was Labor's eighth loss in a row and was not unexpected. Under the leadership of Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, Labor provided good government but Keating fell victim in 1996 to a feeling that it was time for a change. And in dismissing Gough Whitlam in November 1975, Kerr did Labor an unintended favour in that he diverted attention from the disaster that was the Whitlam government.

Certainly the opinion polls at the moment do not look good for Labor. However, like the Coalition, Labor invariably recovers relatively quickly from its darkest moments, provided the party does not split. Labor was down and seemingly out in 1966 and 1975 but back in office in 1972 and 1983 respectively. Labor's inability to win in 1998, 2001 and 2004 reflected the strength of the Howard government and Mark Latham's unsuitability in the last of these unsuccessful campaigns from opposition.

Jones believes that in the 2010 election "there was no debate about ideas" and there was "an infantilisation of debate on refugees and climate change". But it's just that Jones regards Tony Abbott's opposition to a carbon tax leading to an emissions trading scheme as inappropriate. Likewise with the Coalition's hard line on border protection. Opposing an emissions trading scheme and campaigning on border protection may be good policy or bad. But it is not infantile.

In any event, negativity does not amount to poor politics. Today Malcolm Fraser is a hero of the leftist-luvvies set and receives standing ovations at taxpayer-funded literary festivals. It was not always so. Fraser took over the Liberal Party leadership in March 1975. He proceeded to become one of the most negative opposition leaders in Australian history. Under Fraser's leadership, the Coalition defeated numerous Whitlam government bills in the Senate and eventually blocked supply.

In the 1970s, the most authoritative gauge of public opinion was the Morgan Gallup Poll, published in The Bulletin. The last poll taken when Fraser was opposition leader had his approval rating at a mere 29 per cent with a disapproval rating of 53 per cent. The Bulletin headed its report "Fraser's appeal at record low". Fraser went on to record the biggest victory in post-World War II Australia - despite campaigning on an ill-thought-through and, at times, contradictory policy agenda.

On ABC News Breakfast yesterday, 7.30 presenter Chris Uhlmann gave vent to the familiar Canberra press gallery refrain that Abbott's relatively low approval rating might mean he is replaced as Liberal leader. Experienced observers should know that what matters in polling is the party vote - not the leader's approval rating.

Jones, Kevin Rudd and more besides now refer to the events of June 24, 2010, when Gillard replaced Rudd, as a "coup". Not so. What happened in 2010 was not dramatically different from what occurred in 1941 (when Arthur Fadden replaced Robert Menzies), 1971 (when Billy McMahon replaced John Gorton) or 1991 (when Keating replaced Hawke).

Dictatorships have coups. Parliamentary democracies have leadership election ballots. In this system, prime ministers and opposition leaders are chosen by their peers. On The World Today yesterday, Rudd strategist Bruce Hawker declared that Rudd "won the public opinion war but lost the battle in the caucus". But Hawker knows that "people power" has no role in parliamentary democracies, where MPs choose leaders. It was no different when Keating replaced Hawke.

The electorate gets to choose a government in Australia every three years - it's up to elected members of the legislature to choose who will head the executive. Billy Hughes led the conservatives to victory at the 1922 election but stood down as prime minister when he found he did not have the support to form a government.

There is a lot of exaggeration around. However, there is in fact nothing all that unusual about contemporary politics in Australia.


Government cash keeping car industry afloat

GOVERNMENT subsides of more than $300 million a year are the only thing keeping Australian car making alive, says the man who led the small-car revolution that deposed the Holden Commodore.

Mazda Australia's Doug Dickson said subsides as high as $100 million a year for Ford, Holden and Toyota were the only thing keeping them alive as local makers.

The baby Mazda3 was officially Australia's favourite car last year, leading the Mazda boss to question the viability of the Commodore and Ford Falcon.

"If the car makers continue to get subsidies, they will remain here," Mr Dickson said. "It guarantees them dominance and gives them a competitive edge with fleets, government and private buyers, who like the fact that they are here."

Mr Dickson said he "desperately" wanted an Australian motor industry. "As an Australian, I don't care what they make as long as they provide the infrastructure for young Australians to become good at making things."

"As a industry figure I want the industry to be strong because we become a whole lot more important as an industry. Without manufacturing here we would just stand in a long line waiting for attention."


Australia's first 4G tablet on sale today

Telstra is from today selling the new Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9, Australia's first 4G tablet, which it says allows users to surf the mobile web up to five times faster than on other models.

It comes as Australians flock to tablet devices, with analyst firm Telsyte estimating that 1.4 million tablets were sold in Australia in 2011. Over two million tablets are expected to be sold this year.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 4G - which comes hot on the heels of the Motorola Xoom 2 that Telstra began stocking on February 21- runs Android 3.2 (upgradeable to 4.0 in the future) and includes an 8.9-inch screen, 1.5GHz dual-core processor and front- and rear-facing cameras (3-megapixel and 2-megapixel, respectively).

The device weighs 470 grams and is available in 16GB or 32GB configurations, which will cost $720 and $840, respectively.

Telstra said the 16GB model was in stores today while the 32GB would launch "shortly". There are both plans and prepaid options, with plans ranging from $29 for 1GB of data to $89 for 15GB of data.

"The leap in internet speeds available ... means customers can stream high-definition video and music over the internet, load magazines faster and enjoy rich internet content traditionally confined to a PC screen," said Telstra mobile executive director Warwick Bray.

Bray's pitch to businesses was that users would be able to get web speeds on the tablet that are comparable to those found in the office.

Telstra is in the process of rolling out its 4G network access the country, and it is already available in all capital cities plus more than 80 regional and metro4g politan centres.

The telco recently launched Australia's first 4G smartphone, the HTC Velocity 4G, which Telstra said was its third highest-selling consumer handset on a plan.

The first 4G devices offered by Telstra were wireless broadband dongles in September last year, and between then and the end of January Telstra said it added 100,000 4G subscribers.

Telstra says its 4G network is capable of download speeds between 2Mbps and 40Mbps, while upload speeds are between 1Mbps and 10Mbps. This is about double download speeds on 3G.

When the user is out of 4G coverage areas the tablet is able to revert to 3G, with dual channel HSPA+ support.


Monday, February 27, 2012

A wonderful story and an evocative picture

Once upon a time everybody understood the bonds that could form between people and their horses and this picture illustrates that

It was a race against the tide that pulled at the heartstrings.

For three hours, show horse Astro was stuck neck deep in thick mud at Avalon Beach on Corio Bay in Victoria as the tide inched closer.

Rescue crews first tried to pull the 18-year-old, 500kg horse free with fire hoses, and then a winch before a vet turned up to sedate Astro and pull him clear with a tractor.

The crews knew by 5pm the tide would have come all the way in. But within minutes of the waters rising around him, Astro was being dragged up on to solid ground slowly but surely, the team filthy but ecstatic.

Owner Nicole Graham said she and daughter Paris, 7, set off at noon when without warning she sunk up to her waist in thick, smelly muck.

She wouldn't leave Astro's side until he was free. "It was terrifying," Ms Graham said. "Every time I moved it sucked me back down."


For Gillard, the challenge has just begun. For Rudd, this is the end

JULIA Gillard has received the strongest backing ever given to a leadership contender in the history of Labor and the vanquished Kevin Rudd has only mustered the most meagre support in the party's history.

Giving the lie to the inflated numbers the Rudd forces, the Caucus has plumped for Gillard by a winning margin more than two to one giving the former Foreign Minister support from just 30 per cent of his colleagues.

This is not a springboard for Rudd to fight another day and he would do well to adopt the kind of emphatic language used by former US President Lyndon Johnson who delivered a memorable "will not seek and will not accept" speech relinquishing any pretence to the leadership of his party.

The most amazing thing about this result is Rudd was unable to garner even one additional vote from where he was not just two weeks ago, but 20 months ago when he was dumped as Prime Minister.

While Rudd's life is about to become both much quieter and lonlier, Gillard has a challenge of existential proportions. She needs to regroup and get back in control of her government's agenda.

Today's Newspoll, putting Labor in the best - but still losing - position it's been in for about six months, was welcome news for Labor and Gillard but this trend needs to be confirmed and improved upon if the Prime Minister is to feel entirely comfortable and safe.

Senior government figures geuinely believe she can do just that and, if she's given a few months of relatively clear air, she will be able to establish the authority and leadership credentials she has struggle to demonstrate since the August, 2010 election.

Certainly in the months ahead members of the federal Parliamentary Labor Party will be watching colleagues like hawks for any sign of leadership rumbling and corridor talk. There might be plenty of open wounds and some bruised egos among Labor MPs, but there is no stomach for a rerun of the events seen in the last 10 days.

The immediate task for the Prime Minister is to reshuffle her ministry, something she is likely to use caution and sensitivity in bringing about.

Despite some urging for a bold reshuffle, Gillard is likely to keep changes minimal and without a hint of payback or punishment for the handful of Rudd supporters.


Will of the people fails to sway caucus

Old joke: Q. "What's the difference between a caucus and a cactus?" A. "With a cactus all the pricks are on the outside"

Labor has overwhelmingly endorsed the candidate of the unions and the party machine over the candidate of the people.

For a political party that has been super-sensitive to opinion polls in the past, it was a remarkable rejection of the public will.

The people consistently prefer Kevin Rudd to Julia Gillard as Labor leader by a factor of about two to one. But Labor has gone the other way by a factor of more than two to one. For a party that is on a steady trajectory to electoral defeat, it was an extraordinary act of steely resolve. Or suicidal madness.

Under the Gillard leadership, Labor lost its parliamentary majority and then proceeded consistently to register the lowest primary vote on record.

And the only polling figures to shift in the past week beyond the margin of error was Gillard’s approval rating.

Yet the vote of 71 to 31 for Gillard suggests that Rudd, on net, has failed to win over any votes since last week. Even more remarkably, he has failed to win any votes since losing the leadership 20 months ago.

Some names have moved from one column to the other on the caucus voting lists, but, on a net basis, the caucus has shown itself to be deeply entrenched in defending Gillard.

This is a violation of one of the customary laws of leadership challenges – that the challenger carries momentum.

The repudiation of Rudd reflects three forces.

First, it illustrates the power of the Labor institutional infrastructure of unions and their caucus outgrowth, the factions. Not one trade union supported Rudd.

Second, it shows the visceral personal dislike for Rudd in the caucus. The great bulk of the caucus would rather protect its comfortable working conditions under Gillard than choose a difficult leader more likely to deliver an election win.

Third, it demonstrates a commitment to continue to deliver its existing agenda. Oddly enough, it is largely an agenda drafted by Rudd.

The 40-vote margin compares with a 22-vote margin in Paul Keating’s first and failed strike at Bob Hawke. So Rudd faces a much bigger task to win in any second challenge. It would take a very dramatic shift to move 22 votes.


Parents can forget about teaching, kids call the shots

This is true. Twin studies show that IQ is overwhelmingly genetic, with NO influence from the family environment

PARENTS fretting about brain-training their babies have been told to relax - children are like "dandelions" that will flourish almost regardless of what you do.

Brain experts say mums and dads worry unnecessarily about their children's development, because the impact of parenting is limited.

New book Welcome To Your Child's Brain, written by neuroscientists, concludes most children can reach their potential with "good enough" parenting because they are born hard-wired for learning.

"Many modern parents believe that children's personality and adult behaviour are shaped mainly by parenting, but research paints a very different picture," according to the book, due for release in May.

"For many brain functions, from temperament to language to intelligence, the vast majority of children are dandelions ... they flourish in any reasonable circumstances."

But while force-feeding babies and toddlers with learning is not the answer, spending quality time with them is important, say authors Sandra Assmodt and Professor Sam Wang.

"Parents are well suited to teach them, just by interacting with their children in everyday life," they said.

Clinical psychologist Dr Simon Crisp said parents should take cues from their children "because they will learn at a pace that suits them".

"The important thing is to develop a culture at home that values learning," he said. "Make learning fun and enjoyable. Happy and relaxed parents will bring up a happy and relaxed child."


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Slow justice damaging political culture

Like us all, Dr Hartwich (below) knows that all the delay in investigating Craig Thomson is needed to keep Labor in power but he uses comparisons to highlight how corrupt the whole charade is

The wheels of justice grind slowly, but perhaps even more so in Australia. Comparing the speed of Fair Work Australia’s investigation into Labor backbencher Craig Thomson to a snail’s pace is unfair to common molluscs. Following the three-year-long inquiry into Thomson’s alleged misuse of a union credit card is rather like watching tectonic plates drift.

Does it really need to be this way? Is this how such affairs should be dealt with in a liberal democracy?

As it turns out, other mature democracies are more rigorous about similar accusations of personal misconduct. Rather than letting proceedings drag on behind closed doors for years as in the Thomson saga, other countries are quicker in initiating formal criminal proceedings. And even before the results of such trials are announced, there is often enough public pressure on office holders to vacate their positions.

Consider the British MPs who were indicted of false accounting in the parliamentary expenses scandal. After a newspaper had revealed their fraudulent claims in May 2009, they were formally charged in February 2010. Their political parties deselected them from the following election; prison sentences between nine and 18 months were delivered between January and July 2011. Having served a quarter of their sentences, they have meanwhile been released under conditions.

From the first public allegations to court trial to imprisonment and conditional release, the British expenses scandal was shorter than Fair Work Australia’s initial investigation into Thomson.

Losing office can be even faster in Germany. Last Friday, President Christian Wulff resigned after the Lower Saxon state prosecution service had formally requested the suspension of his legal immunity. This followed newspaper reports claiming Wulff had accepted gifts from business friends in return for favourable treatment.

The threat of preliminary proceedings was enough to force the president to resign. Although Wulff maintained his innocence in his resignation speech, he argued that public doubts over his personal credibility would make it impossible for him to exercise the office of head of state.

Wulff’s departure barely took nine weeks. But even that was considered too long by most German commentators, who claimed that public trust in democracy had been damaged by Wulff clinging to power. By staying to long, they argued, Wulff had done a disservice to himself and the office of president.

The speed with which both Britain and Germany have dealt with claims of personal misconduct was quite appropriate in both cases. For the democratic system to be trusted, it is vital there are no lingering doubts about elected office holders. Substantial claims need to be dealt with quickly, and in court, to avert harming the integrity of the political system.

Surely Australia would not want to copy the Italian example in which criminal proceedings against former Prime Minister Berlusconi have been dragging on for years, not least because of political interference.

In any case, even something as slow-moving as tectonic plates may eventually result in an earthquake.


Overcharging cases against Keddies lawyers going slowly nowhere

The moment is here, if not overdue, for us to get up to speed on the latest twists and turns of the Keddies saga. Not only is this one of the most awful cases where lawyers are alleged to have conspicuously and consistently overcharged their clients, as reported in a long-running Herald investigation, but it shows the failure of the legal profession as a self-regulator.

While lawyers may admire the skills with which their own can duck and weave through the system, the public - the consumers of legal services - would view the charade with the contempt it deserves.

A Sydney law firm run by Stephen Firth is acting for more than 100 former clients of Keddies, suing the former partners for the return of overcharged fees. It gives rise to issues of breach of duty, deceit, misrepresentation, and false and misleading conduct.

It is understood another law firm, Wang & Associates, is acting for close to another 100 former clients of Keddies. Just about all of them were involved in accident compensation cases.

In November, it became clear that some of Firth's clients were being approached by anonymous third parties and offered cash to settle their overcharging claims.

This happened behind the back of their new legal representatives.

Firth sought an injunction in the Supreme Court to stop it. The unnamed agents were effectively acting for both the plaintiffs and the defendants.

Robert Stitt, QC, acting for Firth and the clients who were being peeled away, put it to Justice Michael Adams: "An unknown, charitable white knight was going around the suburbs with piles of cash and deeds of release … It's so offensive, that it should be brought to heel."

At this stage, about six of Firth's clients had been approached before their overcharging cases against the former Keddies partners (Tony Barakat, Scott Roulstone and Russell Keddie) had been listed for hearing in the District Court.

It emerged that some of the third-party agents arranging these backdoor settlements were former employees of Keddies.

Undertakings were given to the court by lawyers for Keddies that this would not happen again and, in fact, Adams made orders seeking to prevent Keddies or its agents communicating with former clients who were suing them.

Evidence was presented that in breach of the undertaking and orders, Roulstone had signed a cheque payable to a disgruntled, overcharged client. Roulstone is a former vice-president of the NSW Law Society.

On December 6, Adams asked Barakat, Roulstone and Keddie to show cause why they should not be dealt with for contempt of court. He wanted them in court the next day, as they would probably need to be cross-examined.

"This is serious … There better be a good explanation," the judge said.

On the day, Chris Branson, QC, for the Keddies trio, submitted that the contempt hearing required a properly drawn-up charge, giving full particulars of the alleged offence.

It was all put off until December 12, with Adams saying: "I would like to put on record my grave disapproval" of the attitude of the Keddies partners, particularly Roulstone.

Meanwhile, as part of the District Court overcharging cases, Judge Susan Gibb ordered two barristers, David Campbell, SC, and Tim Meakes, who acted for Keddies clients, to produce documents which divulged the fees they charged in a number of accident compensation settlements.

Campbell and Meakes sought leave to appeal that decision and were turned down on January 31 by the Court of Appeal (in this case, Justices Tony Meagher and Reg Barrett).

Back in Adams's court, things were hotting up. Instead of the contempt hearing coming on in the new year, the judge was asked by Keddies to stand down from the hearing on the ground of apprehended bias. Firth's lawyers protested that this was just another bout of tactical stalling.

Adams delivered judgment on that matter on February 3, rejecting the application and saying that no reasonable person could think he had been biased in the conduct of the proceedings. The contempt hearing was then relisted for February 16.

But on February 9, the Court of Appeal granted Barakat, Roulstone and Keddie a stay of the contempt case against them and gave leave to appeal Adams's refusal to disqualify himself on the grounds of apprehended bias.

The damages case that Firth has also brought against the Keddies trio seems to be stayed as well.

We are now at an indeterminate point. The courts, the disciplinary authorities and the Law Society have to sit on their hands and whistle while these long-winded excursions take their course.

Not a finger has been laid on these lawyers. They all retain the right to practise and they all have a right to contest every single step to hold them to account for the rapacious way some of their former clients were scalped.


Weather watchers confess long-distance vision dodgy

THE weather bureau has revealed Day Seven of its long-range forecasts is wrong most of the time.

The bloopers include a "mostly sunny" outlook one week out from the disastrous Christmas Day hail storms.

"Isolated showers" were the long-range forecast for February 4 last year - the day Melbourne was swamped by flash flooding.

The 40 per cent accuracy rate for Day Seven temperatures is less than what the Day One forecast was 50 years ago, according to data compiled for the Herald Sun.

Weather bureau spokeswoman Andrea Peace has defended the use of seven-day forecasting, but admitted the uncertainty increased dramatically from the four-day mark.

"We use the main global models that are considered to be the best, and there can still be days where even for tomorrow they can all give conflicting results," Ms Peace said.

"The need is still there but people have to understand that it's a guide, it's an outlook and there's a strong possibility that it will change as you get closer to the day."

"Severe weather" was forecast closer to Christmas Day, but thousands of Melburnians were caught out by the storms, with hailstones and flash flooding causing tens of millions of dollars in damage.

Ms Peace said it was difficult to determine the severity of thunderstorms 24 hours out.

The figures show Day One forecasts are more accurate than ever with an 85 per cent strike rate in 2011. And the number of forecast failures - an error margin of 5C or more - was just three last year, 10 times fewer than in 1962. The Day One error margin has halved in 50 years to just over 1C, while the Day Seven forecast averaged a 2.5C error last year.

Ms Peace said technological advances had combined to hone forecasts over the years.

"As we get better computing power, the size of the grids is going to get smaller and smaller, so the computer models will be able to resolve smaller, more localised weather phenomena," she said.


Bureaucrats lose one

I am not at all anti-vaccine but I certainly detest bureaucrats abusing their power

The New South Wales Supreme Court has ruled the state's Health Care Complaints Commission should not have issued a public warning against a prominent anti-vaccination group.

The Australian Vaccination Network (AVN) took the court action after the commission (HCCC) after the warning against it was issued in July 2010.

The HCCC issued the warning after the network failed to comply with its recommendation to disclose on its website that the group's purpose was to provide anti-vaccination information.

The network argued the commission did not have the authority to issue such a warning.

This morning the Supreme Court has agreed the HCCC was not within its jurisdiction to do so.

In 2010 the commission said it had established the network's website contained incorrect and misleading information, and quoted selectively from research. [Rather like orthodox medical research papers, in other words]


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Health chiefs gag University of Queensland medical students with legal threat

IN AN affront to free speech, Queensland Health has demanded all medical students sign a gag order or be turfed out of their courses.

Students are furious that the University of Queensland medical school has gone along with the ridiculous ban they fear will prevent them from speaking out against wrongdoing or mistreatment of patients.

The students fear they are being coerced into signing the seven-page student deed poll agreeing not to reveal anything. The medical school's online forum has run hot with complaints.

"Of primary concern is the contents of the document which seems to provide disproportionately harsh penalties for students in relation to extremely vaguely worded 'breaches', most of which seem designed to protect Queensland Health, not patients," said one student. "Also of concern is the manner in which students are being forced to sign these documents as a 'requirement' of their placement.

"If students choose not to sign this deed - a document which the students have had no role in writing or drafting and have not even been informed about - then Queensland Health will disallow the student to continue on a placement, effectively meaning their medical studies are over.

"This penalty is by virtue of paragraph 17 (which says): 'This Deed Poll will continue for the duration of the placement, subject to the student's right to withdraw this consent. The student acknowledges that they may withdraw this consent by providing written notice to Queensland Health and the education provider. A withdrawal of consent will affect the student's ability to continue with the placement'."

The unsigned deed warns that "Queensland Health may seek and obtain an ex parte interlocutory or final injunction to prohibit or restrain the student, from any breach or threatened breach of this Deed Poll".

The deed contains a direct threat of legal action. It says: "In the event of a breach or threatened breach of the terms of this Deed Poll, Queensland Health shall be entitled to seek the issue of an injunction restraining the student from committing any breach of this Deed Poll without the necessity of proving that any actual damage has been sustained or is likely to be sustained by Queensland Health."

Another student said there were already adequate privacy regulations. She added: "It strikes me that this is Queensland Health out of control. With an election imminent, they are inappropriately trying to control all aspects of information about their organisation and inappropriately entitle themselves to take harsh punitive action against students. "The document seems to have more to do with protection from comment or criticism about Queensland Health than patient privacy."

Matthew Ramsay, a student from the US, said the document appeared to be an attempt to shut down media scrutiny of Queensland Health and the university medical school. "It's very disconcerting," he said. "It appears to be a cover-up. The medical profession is dangerously close to allowing the Hippocratic Oath to degenerate into the Hypocritical Oath."

He said the medical school was racked with discontent following the nepotism scandal that claimed the scalps of vice-chancellor Paul Greenfield and his deputy Michael Keniger.

Ramsay said he wondered whether it was linked to the controversy surrounding medical student Margaret O'Connell, who kept a diary of shortcomings at the school. O'Connell said students were not properly supervised during a seven-week "rotation" at a Queensland private hospital catering chiefly for the mentally ill. She said doctors made fun of suicidal patients, including one who had threatened to jump into the Brisbane River.

O'Connell complained doctors would not let students attend consultations with them. And doctors made it clear to students they didn't care whether they turned up. The doctors didn't even know the students' names and didn't want to know. "I suspect this gag order is directly or indirectly related to the case of Meg," said Ramsay.

O'Connell said she was asked to see a psychiatrist and failed on a rotation to far north Queensland. But her case was strengthened when she won a glowing report card from Dr Peter Chilcott, director of medical services at Gove District Hospital in the Northern Territory.

Chilcott went further, accusing the university of a witch-hunt. In evidence tendered to the university, he said: "I applaud your courage in taking on the Queensland medical establishment. As you are aware, your time in Gove was cut short by similar slurs and innuendos concerning your mental state. I had no concerns about your time at Gove.

"I was contacted by the medical school to provide reports. "There was no doubt in my mind that the medical school simply wanted me to falsify reports and would have been quite happy for the whole mess up here to simply go away. I told the medical school that I had many concerns about how your case was handled.

"If someone had concerns about your mental state at that time then who better to look into the matter than myself with 38 years of GP experience. I also had at that time a GP trainee who is very experienced in mental health because she was originally on a psychiatric training pathway before switching to general practice. "From my perspective your case had all the signs of a witch-hunt."

Chilcott saw no signs of mental illness, adding: "I did see someone who is 'eccentric'. However, do not take offence at this because I am considered 'eccentric' as well." He said he was happy to support O'Connell's complaints to the CMC and the Ombudsman.

O'Connell has applied for a transfer to other universities. Her complaint is being considered internally.


'Live in the real world' - Judge backs smacks

SMACKING your kids can be OK, a judge said yesterday. Judge Paul Conlon yesterday overturned the assault conviction of a stepfather who cuffed his 13-year-old stepson lightly over the head after he swore at his mother and refused to wash the dishes.

The man also grabbed the boy on top of his arm when he tried to go to the bathroom to get out of chores.

The man had been convicted in Wollongong Local Court of assault causing actual bodily harm after the boy's birth father called police. The court had rejected the man's rarely used defence of "lawful correction".

In a decision that will further inflame the debate about smacking, Judge Conlon said children needed effective discipline. "One of the reasons that so many young persons find themselves in trouble with the law is that there has been an absence of any effective discipline in their lives," Judge Conlon said in the NSW District Court.

"I find that the application of that physical force was reasonable, having regard to the fact that the complainant was a healthy 13-year-old boy," he said.

The judge said there was no way he was condoning violence against children. "However, it is a sad day when caring parents, attempting to impart some discipline to the little princes and princesses, are dragged before our courts and have convictions imposed against them in circumstances such as the present," he said.

Judge Conlon said anti-smacking "experts" did not "live in the real world".


A corrupt Reserve Bank!

Reserve knew of bribes two years before police called. It is hard to know which is worse, the initial offences or the coverup

THE Reserve Bank governor, Glenn Stevens, has admitted his deputy was told in writing of corruption inside the bank's operations in 2007, two years before the scandal became public and it called in the federal police.

But the bank is refusing to release the briefing or the legal advice it relied on when it decided not to report alleged corruption to the police.

Mr Stevens told the federal parliamentary economics committee yesterday the reserve's deputy governor, Ric Battellino, who retired earlier this month, was informed in writing about corruption inside the reserve's currency firm, Note Printing Australia.

The briefing was written by an unnamed Note Printing employee and detailed admissions made by its Malaysian and Nepalese agents that they had paid bribes on behalf of the Reserve's firm.

Last year, federal police charged Note Printing with bribing officials in Malaysia and Nepal as part of a criminal inquiry that begun in 2009 after revelations in the Herald. It is fully owned by the bank and overseen by serving and former Reserve senior officials.

The Herald revealed last October that Reserve officials were told in 2007 about the corrupt conduct involving Note Printing's overseas agents, but sought to cover it up instead of alerting police.

Under questioning from the Liberal MP Tony Smith yesterday, Mr Stevens initially told the committee the bank had received no written briefing on corruption inside Note Printing and that concerns raised in 2007 were only verbal and inconclusive.

Mr Stevens also used the hearing to strongly deny claims bank officials engaged in any cover-up, saying he "unequivocally" rejected the claim.

But after Mr Smith interrupted the conclusion of the hearing to press Mr Stevens on the bribery scandal, Mr Stevens conceded his earlier evidence to the committee was wrong and the bank had been advised in writing of corruption concerns in 2007.

"Well, actually, that [what I said earlier about their being no written briefing] wasn't quite true. I have been reminded while we have been talking that in fact the deputy governor invited that person [the Note Printing employee who raised bribery concerns] to put that in writing, which he did and give it to the deputy governor."

When he attempted to further press Mr Stevens about the briefing, Mr Smith was told he had run out of time.

It is the second committee hearing in which the RBA has been forced to correct the evidence it has given about its handling of the corruption scandal, which has so far led to the charging of 10 former bank note executives.

Note Printing's sister company, Securency, which is half owned by the RBA, is also facing bribery charges. At the time of the alleged bribery, both companies were chaired by the former Reserve Bank deputy governor Graeme Thompson. They shared the same agent in Malaysia, who has been charged with paying bribes.

Instead of alerting police to the allegations of corrupt conduct in 2007, the Reserve Bank appointees on Note Printing's board confidentially referred them to the corporate law firm Freehills. The Note Printing board also agreed to conceal from the Nepal central bank information about improper tender dealings involving secret commissions.

The RBA claims Freehills later advised there was no need to go to the police. It has also refused to release the Freehills report.

Mr Stevens told the committee yesterday the bribery scandal was "quite easily the most unpleasant, difficult set of issues I've ever had to deal with in my job".


The Gonski paradox: more red tape, more autonomy, less choice in Australian education

Kevin Donnelly

If we project the Gonski school funding recommendations into the future, it is possible to make some hypothetical predictions.

It is possible they would improve state schools by making them more autonomous and giving parents more input into their running, but they would also further bureaucratise school funding and reduce the range of choices for mothers and fathers.

The contradiction in the Gonski report is this: it argues giving schools increased flexibility and freedom will improve results and raise standards, but at the same time recommends increased bureaucracy and red tape and an accountability regime that will restrict innovation and diversity.

A defining characteristic of the Kevin Rudd/Julia Gillard education revolution is its top-down approach. While the Commonwealth government neither manages schools nor employs staff, its national curriculum, testing, teacher registration and certification, and partnership agreements - all linked to funding - have centralised control of education and led to more micromanagement.

Schools would suffer additional compliance costs and red tape under the Gonski recommendation for additional government-sponsored agencies such as the National School Resources Body and School Planning Authorities in the various states.

Then there is the impact inside the classroom. Linking funding to measures such as National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) results would exacerbate the negative influence of standardised testing.

The curriculum will narrow, teachers will feel pressure to be bean counters and schools will be forced to contrive ways to ensure that test results improve. As in the US, especially New York, where there is a history of standardised tests and public accountability, there will also be pressure on governments and education authorities in Australia to water down tests and artificially lift results to convince a sceptical public that standards are being raised.

Over the past 20 years or so, school choice in Australia has become a reality. Many parents have voted with their feet, choosing non-government schools. While enrolments in Catholic and independent schools have grown by approximately 20 per cent, government school enrolments have flatlined at a little more than 1 per cent.

Across Australia, some 34 per cent of students attend non-government schools; more than 50 per cent in some capital cities. Critics argue non-government schools have been so successful because of the Howard government's supposedly inequitable socio-economic status (SES) funding model. They also argue the success of Catholic and independent schools residualises government schools and exacerbates disadvantage as they are left with high concentrations of at-risk and poorly performing students.

But there are two problems with Gonski's team accepting these arguments, which will only make the situation in state schools worse. Firstly, parents are choosing non-government schools because of their values, not just their resources. Secondly, labelling state schools as underperformers will lead to fewer enrolments. Parents are naturally averse to sending their children to a school characterised as serving at-risk students, especially when non-government schools are seen to achieve better results.

The report does nod in the direction of increased school autonomy and allowing schools to better respond to the needs and aspirations of their communities. So parents in future could expect co-operative state governments to free schools from a one-size-fits-all model of educational delivery and ensure that schools, both government and non-government, are more able to manage their own affairs.

Gonski argues for more community engagement with schools, for example, and a greater role for parents, businesses and philanthropic groups. This will add to the pressure on governments to give schools control over budgets, hiring and firing staff and their culture and curriculum focus. So parents could have more input into how the local state school runs.

Then again, the Gonski report could also have an unintended consequence. By recommending that government and non-government students with a disability receive equal funding and that such funding should be portable, it could produce a sort of pilot study for a voucher system for all students. Governments would then be forced to acknowledge that parents have a right to choose where their children go to school and to ensure money follows the child and parents are not financially penalised for their choice.

Of course, given the Gillard government's decision to put the report on the backburner, postponing any decisions until after another round of consultations and submissions, its future is uncertain at best.

Given that the opposition education spokesman, Christopher Pyne, has argued for the existing SES model and expressed doubts about the report, any future Coalition government is likely to shelve it or accept its proposals very selectively.

SOURCE. A lot of interesting commentary here on Finland, genetics and such things

WA should invest and lower taxes before hoarding revenue

Stephen Kirchner

On 22 February, WA Premier Colin Barnett said his government would announce a sub-national sovereign wealth fund as part of the forthcoming state budget and legislate to introduce the fund later in the year.

The Liberal-National government is committed to ensuring future generations of West Australians have a legacy from this historic period of economic development, built predominantly on the significant but finite resources available to us at present.

Robert Carling and I explain why the premise behind the WA move is flawed in our just released CIS Policy Monograph, Future Funds or Future Eaters? We note that Australia’s resources are not finite in any economically meaningful sense. Well before these resources are exhausted, substitution on both the supply and demand side of commodities markets will have consigned them to being an economic irrelevance. In the meantime, continuing productivity growth and technical progress will mean future generations of Australians will enjoy a much higher standard of living in an economy that will increasingly be dominated by service industries.

To the extent that Western Australia is now enjoying windfall revenue gains, there is no reason why the state government cannot invest this revenue in productivity-enhancing infrastructure and other projects that will yield a stream of valuable services into the future for the benefit of future generations. Government expenditure programs should aim to do this anyway, but it is particularly important to the extent that the revenue streams from the current mining boom are thought to be temporary. Mining revenue could also be used to lower or abolish inefficient state taxes that will expand the economy and grow the state tax base for the benefit of future generations.

Hoarding revenue in financial assets will produce a return in line with the future performance of those assets, but this is likely to be poor compensation for not using the revenue today to increase spending on productivity-enhancing infrastructure and lowering the state tax burden.

Many commentators are justifying the pay rise by saying those who choose to work with the poor are saints. The real question is why is failure being rewarded? Public choice, dear reader. I just wish vulnerable children had a public sector union to advocate on their behalf, replete with tame factional serfs in the Labor caucus.

That feathering their own nests has been the priority at a time when the child protection system is crumbling all around us and stumbling from one crisis to another means that social workers have surrendered any pretensions to their ‘professional’ status.

This sorry episode has reinforced my belief that the answer to the perpetual crisis engulfing child protection is to restore citizen-control over the system by re-establishing decentralised, community-governed child protection agencies.


Friday, February 24, 2012

Paid to spread lies on climate (?)

I reproduce below an amusing rant that I happened to come across on an Australian Leftist blog. Note that it is 100% "ad hominem" -- it is all personal abuse, accusations and aspersions. Not a single actual scientific fact is mentioned. But who can blame the author after all? Warmists have no scientific facts to promulgate -- just prophecies and appeals to authority. I am still waiting for someone to dispute the facts that have long been portrayed in the header to GREENIE WATCH. No-one ever has

The anti-climate science nonsense being promulgated by ratbag groups such as Quadrant, the IPA and the utterly degenerate and despicable Catallaxy blog depend on the rantings of a handful of so-called ‘sceptics’. According to the DeSmogblog in a series of posts (the earliest is here) the most prominent of these sceptics are being paid monthly retainers by the libertarian Heartland Institute that are funded by the usual interest groups. Heartland has in the past acted on behalf of carcinogen producers to lie about the dangers of secondary tobacco smoke – its senior personnel were in the employ of these tobacco producers – so its antics should not be unexpected. But the naiveté of the right-wing fools who promulgate and consume the lies spread by this group is surprising.

The dangerous implications of these lies rests in their success in turning the science of climate change into a so-called debate between ‘two sides’ even though the science of climate change is clear. This has been seriously damaging to the cause of trying to take foster community resolve to address climate change and damages the future world that our children will live in. All of those involved – the so-called ‘scientists’ who spread the sceptical nonsense, the right-wing ignoramuses who disperse their lies through blogs, the gutter press and the mindless sheep who provide an audience for these lies and who endlessly recycle their wrong arguments deserve the community’s condemnation. More than that an awareness of the role of such interest group lobbies in undermining informed debate needs to be understood.

It is part of a pattern for this camp – lies on climate science, crank macroeconomic theories and crank views on taxation and the use of economic instruments to address externalities. They are all part of the same web of deceit.

Bob Carter denies here that he is a mouthpiece for Heartland but does not deny he gets paid a monthly retainer by them. Bob is one of the crew of right-wing ideologues who present their views regularly in the News Corporation media such as the Australian – for example this.

Heartland claim one of the documents cited is fraudulent but do not deny the allegations above that they paid climate change denialists. DesSmogblog does not retreat from its position. Wait for a new program of lies from Catallaxy and the IPA – these are the experts in deceit.

Update: DeSmogblog point out an interesting tactic of Heartland. Raise a question about 1 document in 100 pages of documents and seek to throw doubts on the whole lot.

Update: ASIC documents suggest the denialist Australian Climate Science Coalition (Carter, Evans, Kininmonth, Plimer etc) get most of their funding from Heartland.


A conservative fires back

Leftists can hardly open their mouths without spouting abuse but in the Northern Territory, one conservative politician gave a Leftist as good as she got -- and more. She appears to have some Aboriginal ancestry so that may have emboldened her. Being "black" has its privileges

CLP firebrand Alison Anderson hit back at Labor heavy Chris Burns in Parliament labelling him "racist" and "sexist", and revealing he hates the Treasurer - and her mother.

In response to a stinging attack by Dr Burns in Parliament on Tuesday night, Ms Anderson last night kicked back - with both boots. Parliament descended into chaos during the attack, which ended with Ms Anderson being thrown out when she, according to the Government, called a Labor backbencher a " b*tch".

Ms Anderson later denied she used the 'f' word. But she admitted to saying "sookie b*tch" in the heat of battle - and said she intended to apologise.

The Member for Macdonnell began her attack by calling Dr Burns a "bizarre man". She recalled a time, when she was a Labor backbencher, that Dr Burns "mocked a victim of child abuse". "I look across at the Member for Johnston in his twilight, and what do I see? I see a human shell."

She called him a "sexist" and a "racist".

When Treasurer Delia Lawrie jumped up to defend Dr Burns, Ms Anderson offered a biting reply. "Member for Karama, remember Burnsy said he hates you and your mother too," she said.

The ugly feud was sparked after Dr Burns accused her of "despicable" practices during her time working in Papunya. He had read out sections of a book, King Brown Country, saying she'd forced the shop to price gouge and used the funds to buy cars for a chosen few.

Ms Anderson denied all wrong-doing, and threatened to sue Dr Burns if he repeated it outside Parliament. "I give my personal assurance to this Parliament again that I've never been involved in corrupt financial practices and I've never benefited from any transactions at Papunya involving motor vehicles," she said.

Ms Anderson said the book was full of falsehoods and errors, and that she hadn't taken legal action because "in public life, one must accept such blows". She said a detailed Commonwealth report into allegations of fraud and mismanagement at Papunya had fully exonerated her.


BOOK REVIEW: The Climate Caper by Garth W Paltridge, Published by Connor Court, Australia, 2009

Below is part of a very large and informative review. Reading the whole thing definitely recommended

The Climate Caper is a “must read” for the insights it provides into the way the prospect of mild global warming has been beaten up to become “the greatest moral challenge of our times” by a recent Prime Minister of Australia. It provides some extra dots to add to the pattern explained by John Grover’s book The Struggle for Power on the worldwide political campaign against the peaceful use of nuclear power.

Grover’s book could have been called “the anti-nuclear caper”. It describes the worldwide campaign by a network of radical leftwing groups, operating initially under cover of the peace movement and then in the environmental movement. Their greatest institutional achievement came under administration of President Carter when representatives of the movement occupied many senior positions and embarked on the program of massive regulation which now prejudices the economic recovery of the US. In Australia the movement delayed the mining of uranium and prohibits the lucrative industry of storing the nuclear waste of the world and also the prospect of nuclear power.

There is a very major difference between the two campaigns and Paltridge’s book is especially helpful on that topic (though he does not refer to the previous caper at all). The anti-nuclear caper drew no support from reputable scientists, unless you count a handful of outright cranks and some ideologues from non-relevant disciplines. The incredible triumph of that no-growth campaign was to marginalise the entire scientific community. This time around the scientific community is on board and the scientists on the more realistic side of the debate have been marginalised. Paltridge provides a great start on answering the $64K question “how did this happen?”

The book has many striking features, starting with the qualifications of the author.

Emeritus Professor Garth Paltridge is an atmospheric physicist and was a Chief Research Scientist with the CSIRO Division of Atmospheric Research before taking up positions in Tasmania as Director of the Institute of Antarctic and Southern Ocean Studies and CEO of the Antarctic Cooperative Research Centre. He retired in 2002 and remains an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Tasmania, a Visiting Fellow at the Australian National University and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science.

He provides historical perspective because he was involved in climate science from the beginning of interest in warming, up to and beyond the point where it became inflated and politicised.

He was close to the epicentre of the explosion in the IPCC and he explains how the scientific committees of that body became subservient to the political committee.

On the science of warming he provides a luminously clear explanation of the problems with the models that provide the core of the case for drastic action.

In the Australian policy-making process he was very close to the action when the chief advisor to the Government encouraged a committee from the Academy of Science to water down some potentially damning criticisms of the model he was using as the basis of the proposals that have been taken up by the Administration.

He understands enough of the sociology of science to understand the significance of the rise of Big Science, almost entirely government-funded, and the parallel proliferation of Kuhnian “normal scientists”.

In the same way that John Stone can document the decline of professionalism and quality in the Commonwealth public service because he was there as it happened, Paltridge saw the decline of independence and the spirit of criticism in the scientific community during his career (much due to the same influences described by Stone).

All of this adds up to a compelling case to stop the rush to drastic action to address a so-called problem, namely the prospect of a degree or two of warming over the next century, which will have positives as well as negatives (if it makes any noticeable difference at all).

As a bonus the book is short and very clearly written with a light and humorous touch.

Much more HERE

The moron act of branding normal healthy kids as "obese" has now spread to Australia

A MELBOURNE mother is horrified after a child and maternal health nurse labelled her healthy three-year-old daughter "obese".

Helen Karalexis said the incident occurred when she took Viktoria to the Sunshine Child and Maternal Health clinic for a routine check-up on Wednesday.

Ms Karalexis was concerned this was not an isolated case, and that it was sending children the wrong messages.

Her daughter is 108cm tall and weighs 21.1kg - when the nurse put these measurements into the computer, she told her Viktoria was obese. "I said, 'how can you tell me my daughter is obese? Look at her'," Ms Karalexis said. "She's very energetic, she's always outside playing, she's got a lot of muscle, which is heavier than fat."

The nurse recommended Ms Karalexis switch her daughter to low-fat milk, reduce her meal portions and not give her any cordials, soft drinks or fruit juice. "She almost convinced me my daughter was obese," Ms Karalexis said.

Nurses should not be relying solely on a computer program to determine whether a child was obese, but also use discretion and common sense, she said. "It's hard enough trying to get kids to eat as it is, but this could make them start thinking 'I can't eat this because I'm going to get fat'," she said.

Ms Karalexis urged parents suffering a similar experience to seek a second opinion.

A Brimbank City Council spokesman said discussions were being held with Isis Primary Care, which provides maternal and child health services in the area on its behalf, over Ms Karalexis's allegations.

Isis director of community services Michael Girolami said body mass index (BMI), which took into account a child's age, height and weight, was used to determine if a child was in a healthy weight range.

The online BMI assessment tool was available from the US Government's National Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Mr Girolami said. "In this particular case, the child was placed in the 95th percentile, which is defined as "obese" in the chart," he said.

Dietitian Karen Inge said the BMI system had limitations because it measured only height and weight, not body composition, and muscle weighed more than fat.


The drift to private High Schools continues in Qld.

They try to pooh-pooh it below but State schools have to be pretty bad for so many parents to abandon them -- at a considerable monetary sacrifice. Private enrolments are now about 40% of the total, which is huge and getting bigger

STATE high schools are continuing to lose students to the independent and Catholic sectors, figures released today show.

The 2012 Day 8 state school figures - the student data used to allocate staff - show that while primary school enrolments are booming, more than 4000 Year 7 pupils from last year left the sector for private education.

State primary school enrolments rose from 310,104 on Day 8 last year to 317,072 this year - the biggest jump in the sector in recent years. Education Minister Cameron Dick said there was record growth in Prep in state schools, with 1800 extra pupils in 2012, taking the year level to more than 44,700 students across the state.

"This increase reflects the Queensland Government's successful implementation of Prep as the first year of schooling," Mr Dick said.

But the state sector lost about 10 per cent of its Year 7 students when they moved into Year 8 - a figure that was slightly less than in previous years.

About 39,880 Year 7 students were enrolled in a state school on Day 8 last year. The number of students enrolled in Year 8 at state schools this year is 35,712. Overall, state secondary enrolments dropped from 174,737 last year to 174,377 this year.

Queensland Secondary Principals' Association president Norm Fuller said this number was "insignificant" and praised his sector.

"I think state high schools offer more opportunities than the non-government sectors because state high schools offer a far broader range of curriculum," Mr Fuller said.

He said state high schools also served some regional, rural and remote areas where non-government schools didn't exist. Mr Dick said the 2012 Year 8 intake was slightly higher than last year, while a record 30,700 Year 12 students were enrolled on Day 8.

He said Queensland was the only state or territory to have increased government school enrolments every year since 2006.

"Nationally, Queensland continues to have the third-highest proportion of students in government schools, with only Northern Territory and Tasmania higher," he said.

"'We know that while state schools have shown increases in enrolments this year of more than 6600 students, we also expect non-state schools to grow when we see their enrolments later in the year."

Overall, state school student numbers rose 1.4 per cent on last year, up from 484,840 pupils on Day 8 last year to 491,449 this year.

Tiny enrolment drops were recorded in the Darling Downs, South West and Far North Queensland regions, with increases everywhere else.


Thursday, February 23, 2012

Abbott to call election if government falls

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said this morning that he would immediately call an election if he was asked to form government in the wake of Labor's leadership ructions.

Mr Abbott told ABC radio that he was not interested in forming a minority government if the independent MPs remove their support for the ALP government and call a vote of no confidence.

"I don't want to become prime minister as a result of backroom deals," Mr Abbott said. "If I was asked by the governor-general to form a government I would immediately advise an election. We need a real change and the only way we can get real change is with a real election."

Earlier Mr Abbott had seized on Kevin Rudd's resignation as foreign minister as evidence that the Gillard government is unfit for office and that factional interests dominate the party.

In a statement last night Mr Abbott spruiked his party while attacking Labor's internal culture.

"Kevin Rudd has confirmed two things – that the faceless men are running the Labor Party and that the instability at the top of this government is damaging our country," Mr Abbott said. "This government is unworthy to continue in office."

When questioned in Brisbane, Mr Abbott went on to say, "This government is now terminally dysfunctional and this situation has to be resolved as quickly as possible for the benefit of our country."

Shadow Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, meanwhile, called directly for an election. "There should be a ballot, but it should be a ballot all Australians can participate in," he said.

Meanwhile, king-making independent MP Tony Windsor has raised the possibility of a fresh federal election if a Kevin Rudd challenge is successful.

Mr Windsor last night said he was getting "sick of the game that was going on" in the Labor Party over leadership.

"If the Labor Party suddenly want to change arrangements in the middle of the stream all bets are off," he told Sky News. "I'm not going to place myself in the middle of some sort of Fantasy Glades [a theme park] game that's going on and expect to just keep endorsing people whoever the revolving door produces. I did a deal with the current Prime Minister."

Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie refused to be drawn on Mr Rudd's decision.

At a morning press conference yesterday, Mr Wilkie said it was in the national interest for Labor to sort out their differences and get back to work. "I will work with whoever is the leader of the country, whoever is the leader of the Labor Party . . . whether it be Julia Gillard, or Kevin Rudd or Simon Crean," he said.

Queensland maverick Bob Katter, who is close to Mr Rudd, declined to comment.

Greens Leader Bob Brown last night said it would have been better if Mr Rudd had made the announcement in Australia as it was an important domestic issue. "It is a big distraction, people are sick of it. At least this is a circuit breaker," he said.

Independent Rob Oakeshott last night refused to buy into the fallout of Mr Rudd's resignation, saying it was a matter for the Labor Party.


Surgery cancelled on anaesthetised woman

A MEDINA woman who has waited 16 months for elective surgery says she has considered ending her life after having three planned surgeries cancelled by the Health Department.

Pensioner Glynse Schmidt, 65, said she went into hospital for colorectal surgery and was put under general anaesthetic, only to wake up and discover doctors had cancelled her operation at the last minute.

Mrs Schmidt has suffered chronic bowel problems for the past six years and has been waiting on the elective surgery list for over a year.

She says she has "no faith" in the Health Department after her most recent scheduled surgery was cancelled on February 19. "They put me back and put me back. I haven't got any sort of life - I've got cramps in my stomach now and it's constant," Mrs Schmidt said.

"If it was going to continue on last year, I was ready to end my own life. "I'd like to put Colin Barnett in my in my shoes for two weeks without medication to see how he goes, he wouldn't last two days."

Opposition Leader Mark McGowan has taken Mrs Schmidt's plea for help to Parliament, demanding the State Government address a "blow out" in elective surgery waitlists.

"Mrs Schmidt is the human face of the Barnett Government's uncaring attitude towards Western Australians in need and it's failure to address elective surgery waitlists," Mr McGowan said.

"As a pensioner, Mrs Schmidt cannot afford private health care so is forced to suffer months on end as her surgery continues to be pushed further down the waitlist because Premier Colin Barnett considers it to be an elective procedure."

Mrs Schmidt says she was "devastated" to learn her surgery did not go ahead after going under anaesthetic in December 2010. She claimed staff at Fremantle Hospital simply told her to go home and gave her no answers when she asked why the surgery was cancelled.

Her next surgery is scheduled for March 22.

Mr Barnett said the cancelled surgery was "clearly not the result anyone would want" but those on the elective surgery list needed to wait. "The elective list is deemed on clinical and medical grounds not to be life threatening," Mr Barnett said.

"I'm not suggesting they're not painful conditions and cause huge frustration to people, but they are not life threatening conditions and therefore there is a wait."

* Health minister defends department

Health Minister Kim Hames today defended the department, saying there was no record of Mrs Schmidt having surgery cancelled while she was under anaesthetic. "I've had my staff go back three times and check the lists to see if we can find any evidence of that," Dr Hames said.

"I find it extremely difficult to believe that someone would be given an anaesthetic and then woken up and said surgery's cancelled."

Dr Hames conceded the pensioner had had surgery cancelled on two occasions but said it was for other patients who were dying of cancer and needed emergency surgery. "Elective surgery is only cancelled for extreme reasons for patients that are absolutely urgent," he said. "I'd be happy to be cancelled if I was in that position - if someone needed my bed to save their life."


Same-sex couples can sign up for civil unions from Thursday as Queensland's Civil Partnership Act comes into effect on March 5

GAY couples are preparing to line up outside the Brisbane registry office on Thursday to sign up for the state's first civil unions.

That's when the Civil Partnership Act comes into effect, with the first ceremonies able to take place on March 5.

It will give gay couples the same legal rights as married couples.

The move comes after gay couples who dined with Prime Minister Julia Gillard at the Lodge last night say she acknowledged gay marriage in Australia was inevitable.

Equal rights advocate Phil Browne says that while changing the Marriage Act would be ideal, civil unions are a step in the right direction.


Public sector in dock after review reveals systemic problems

This sounds excellent. One hopes at least some of the recommendations are implemented

PUBLIC sector job cuts, asset sales, congestion tolling, an overhaul of the industrial relations system and the abolition of government agencies have all been flagged following the recommendations of a landmark review of the NSW public sector.

The NSW Commission of Audit was announced by the Premier, Barry O'Farrell, after last year's state election and carried out by a former Treasury official, Dr Kerry Schott. The interim report, released yesterday, paints a damning picture of waste and mismanagement.

"The problems this report has uncovered are systemic," it said. "The commission has been surprised at how consistently basic management practices have not been implemented."

Those delivering government services in the state had been forced to make do with cumbersome structures, unnecessary barriers, poor data, unclear reporting lines and ineffective systems. There was a culture of risk aversion, insularity, adherence to procedure and powerlessness, even defeatism, it said.

Dr Schott said the performance of the NSW public sector was "quite poor" compared with its peers and that a four- to five-year reform period would be needed to remedy the problems.

Mr O'Farrell said it "confirms what we've always suspected - that the NSW public sector is performing well below standard and was at that level when we came to office". This had led to deterioration in the state budget.

The report concluded that if the recommended reforms were not implemented then the O'Farrell government's ability to achieve its first-term agenda was "at risk".

Asked to nominate the worst performing parts of the public service, Dr Schott responded they were "everywhere". Among the report's recommendations was that each "cluster" of government departments should review the agencies under them and that the number of agencies be reduced.

"Immediate steps should be taken to group or merge entities where appropriate and abolish them if they no longer serve a purpose," it recommended.

The audit said continual agency amalgamations had contributed to gross inefficiencies. One example identified in the transport cluster showed 130 separate systems were in place to support business processes and reporting. The audit report anticipated that could be reduced to between 12 and 24, saving more than $100 million a year.

Asked to rule out public service job cuts beyond the 5000 redundancies announced in last year's budget, the Treasurer, Mike Baird, said the government would "look at the recommendations before us, manage and balance all the budgetary considerations [and] look at what actions are required".

Other recommendations of the Schott report included a specific unit within Treasury or Finance and Services to "investigate and restructure the lease or sale of assets and businesses to increase funding for new infrastructure".

It recommended Infrastructure NSW and the NSW Treasury examine the introduction of congestion charging for public transport and toll roads to manage demand during peak periods.

It says "charging a higher price during peak periods will convince commuters, who do not have to travel during peak periods, to delay their travel until a later time when the price will be lower".

The audit also recommended a review should be conducted on the NSW Industrial Relations system to create "flexibility" for staff and management and bring it into line with the federal system.

Mr Baird described the report as "a road map for the way forward". It was welcomed by Infrastructure Partnerships Australia as "the clearest diagnosis of the problems that have held the NSW public sector back from delivering world-class services and meeting its infrastructure backlog".

But the Greens MP John Kaye said the report recommended a state "with fewer public servants, less publicly owned infrastructure and more costs for households".


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A very welcome immigrant influx to Australia

Huge numbers of Australian-born people have some Irish ancestry so an Irish influx is rather like a family reunion. Irish people will find goodwill towards them wherever they go in Australia

A young hairdresser from Northern Ireland knew her prospects were turning sour about two years ago when the "old people" in her county's quiet shops started talking about how grim business had been getting.

"Everybody was talking about it," Brona Quinn, 22, said of Ireland's most recent economic downturn and the impact it has had on businesses and families.

Ms Quinn stuck it out for a couple of years, but about six months ago the strain of working three jobs to get a "full weekly wage," finally took its toll.

She secured a working holiday visa to get to Perth, where she had heard there was work.

"We had family over here they were able to tell us that they'd been to Brisbane, they'd been to Sydney and there was a lot of work in Perth," she said.

A jump of more than 50 per cent in temporary skilled visas from July last year suggests Ms Quinn is not the only one to notice the influx of skilled workers from Ireland, where jobs have continued to disappear following the 2008 banking crisis and ongoing financial instability in Europe.

Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship figures reveal the 3560 Irish workers entering the country on 457 visas since only July last year have almost already pipped the 2010-2011 financial year total of 3890.

Last year's figures were not shy either, topping the previous year's total of 2240 by more than 1500 workers.

Irish workers entering the country on permanent working visas also look poised to double in the 2011-2012 financial year. In December, the financial year halfway mark, the number of new permanent workers was close to the last year's total of 2934.

"All of my friends that I have are here - all in different parts of Australia - all the young people that I grew up with - they're all our here or they've been here or coming out here," Ms Quinn said. "Everyday I'm hearing of somebody new who is coming out or planning to come out."

The Perth reception desk at global recruitment firm HAYS has seen a "significant increase" in walk-ins from Ireland looking for work, according to WA senior regional director Simon Winfield. "Our reception feels like we've got half of Dublin in it on a Friday afternoon," Mr Winfield said.

"I think typically if you've been doing any research then you would probably want to be coming through WA or Queensland at the moment."

Mr Winfield said Irish workers on 417 visas seeking construction or property jobs in WA was nothing new, but he had noticed an increase of about 25 per cent in the past six to nine months.

Ms Quinn was among almost 12,000 Irish citizens who received working holiday or 417 visas between July and December 2011, according to the Department's records. The figures revealed a 30 per cent increase on the same period in the previous year.

"Also the demographic has changed slightly because in the blue collar space we've also seen graduate level and experienced graduates coming into the office as well looking for opportunities," Mr Winfield said.

"We've also seen a significant increase in the number of degree-holding Irish nationals looking at the white collar sector as well as the blue collar."

Accounts, finance, construction and office support are attracting the bulk of inquiries at the HAYS office, Mr Winfield said.

The influx has been bolstered by targeted campaigns HAYS and other firms have run for their clients to attract workers to WA from Ireland as labour shortages in the state related to the mining sector are predicted to widen.

"People are aware of the economic situation in the UK and Ireland and certainly are targeting those locations in the hopes they can find the individuals they're looking to find," Mr Winfield said. "When you compare the economics in Perth to somewhere like Ireland there are an awful lot of people who are keen to take those opportunities up."

Many people who have come to Australia on 417 visas seeking to secure 457s were finding success in WA, according to Mr Winfield. "We are finding that those applicants that are starting on a temporary contract on a 417 visa are becoming sponsored," he said.

Ms Quinn said she hopes to find an employer to sponsor her stay in Australia before her visa runs out later this year.


NSW should fund nurse re-entry - opposition

The Federal govt. is responsible for this idiocy but someone has to stop it

The NSW Opposition has called on the State Government to fund re-entry training for former nurses who face $10,000 course fees to rejoin the health system. If nurses have not worked for at least three months full-time in the past five years they must meet tough new training standards.

However, the cost of the short re-entry course is $10,000, and is only offered in Sydney.

Opposition Leader John Robertson said South Australia paid to retrain its nurses and NSW should do the same. "If we're going to have a health system that delivers good and proper health outcomes, we don't just need graduate nurses coming into the system," he told reporters in Sydney. "We also need experienced nurses back in the wards performing the services and delivering those services to the people who have health needs.

"A nurse, who may well have taken a decision to not continue to work and raise a family, who wants to then come back into the system, is hit up with a $10,000 fee. "It's actually acting as a barrier in us getting experienced nurses back into our system."

The NSW Nurses' Association (NSWNA) is campaigning to have the State Government pay the cost of retraining, and for courses to be run in regional areas. The association is hoping to get 10,000 signatures by the end of March so it can force a debate in parliament about the problem.



Three articles below

School plan to test wealth of parents under Gonski review of education

A very similar proposal was a big loser for Mark Latham in 2004 so why this Gonski apparatchik thinks such a neo-Communist policy would be accepted by any Australian government is a mystery

PARENTS of private school students could face family wealth assessments to determine how much government support their children's schools need as part of recommendations to overhaul the nation's education funding system.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard was forced to reassure parents there was no "hit list" of wealthy private schools despite the two-year Gonski review proposing that parents with the "capacity" to contribute more money could be expected to pay up to 80 per cent of the cost of their children's education.

The review also called for a $5 billion funding overhaul to help arrest a rapid decline of Australian education standards.

But Ms Gillard refused to give a financial commitment to the reforms yesterday. The changes put a standard cost of education on the head of every student, with extra loading for disadvantages such as disability and low socioeconomic status.

The Gillard Government has insisted no school would lose a dollar if the reforms were implemented, promising to contribute a minimum of 20 to 25 per cent of funding for all schools.

The Government's response also ruled out an expansion of capital funding from the commonwealth saying, "the scope of proposed new funding contribution may be too large". [Qld.] State education minister Cameron Dick also said it was "premature" to make any commitment to funding.

The Gonski review was heavily critical of the nation's education systems, noting that funding arrangements were confusing.

It said that in the past decade, the performance standards of Australian students when compared with those in other countries have slipped dramatically, from equal second in reading to equal seventh and from equal fifth in maths to equal 13th.

Report architect David Gonski warned the slide would continue and said the funding overhaul was based on the fundamental principle that "differences in educational outcomes must not be a result of differences in wealth, income, power or possession".

As a basic estimate, the report suggests funding of about $10,500 a secondary school student and $8000 a primary school student.

The report recommends governments stump up a minimum of 20 to 25 per cent of that figure for wealthy private schools and expects schools themselves to contribute a minimum of 10 per cent.

However, if parents at a private school were found to have the "capacity" to pay more, they could be expected to fund up to 80 per cent of the cost of their child's education.

The report wants the Government to find a more specific way of measuring family wealth, instead of the present post-code based model.

One exception to the approach to private school funding is the recommendation that non-government schools that do not charge fees and have no capacity to do so, or provide the education of students with very high needs, will be fully funded by the Government.

The Opposition savaged the review, saying the Coalition would not implement a policy that "hits parents in their hip pocket".

Opposition education spokesman Christopher Pyne said the approach to private schools would mean higher school fees and feared there would be no indexation for non-government school funding. "We will make sure at the next election that parents and teachers and principals know the coalition will continue the current quantum of funding, plus real indexation," he said.


ALP rejects schools means testing

Schools Minister Peter Garrett has denied means testing parents of private school students will be introduced as part of the government's response to the Gonski report.

In the first public forum held since the report was released on Monday Mr Garrett was asked if the government was planning to introduce means testing. "There is nothing in this report that refers to means testing of parents at all," Mr Garrett said at this morning's forum.

The report says that parents' capacity to contribute financially should be taken into account when determining the level of government support to non-government schools.

The Government has not given any firm committments about the propsoed Gonski reforms - which seek to make school funding more equitable - as it starts a consultation with the community, states and stateholders over the coming months.

Earlier opposition Education spokesperson Christopher Pyne says that the report "hints" at government plans to introduce means testing for schools funding like it has for private health insurance. "Capacity to pay can only mean one thing and that is how much income is available in that household to pay for school fees," Mr Pyne said.

A key part of the government's response to the report was to hold public meetings so that parents and communities could "have their say about this important education issue".

The forum today - at the Department of Education in Canberra - was attended by teachers, parents and education interest groups and streamed online but, disappointingly for the government, the auditorium was only half full.

During the 45-minute forum - which functioned as a question and answer session - Mr Garrett and School Education Secretary Senator Jacinta Collins did the vast majority of the talking.

Forum participants asked a range of questions, such as when schools would see funding, what support would be available to boarders and the representation of Catholic parents in the ministerial reference group.

When asked about accountability for the reforms, Mr Garrett referred to other accountability measures such as the My Schools website.

He said that overall funding for the proposed reforms could not be discussed until the consultative process was complete. This a host of government working groups and consultation with states and stakeholders. "I know it sounds like talk – but it's actually work," Mr Garrett said.

Senator Collins said she could not "pre-empt an outcome" on the government's position on setting up a philanthropy fund to help schools form philanthropic partnerships - as recommended in the report.

Journalists were not permitted in the auditorium during the session but were able to watch the webcast in a room nearby.

"This is a very democratic process" Mr Garrett said, who added that he expected to host similar events across Australia.

Mr Garrett also said the the government hoped to introduced schools funding legislation to parliament before the end of the year.


A reaction to Australia's Gonski proposals from a Chinese perspective

The author below is an Australian with post-graduate qualifications from two Australian universities and who has been living, studying, working and teaching in China since 1978

For the past 7 years I have been teaching at a HK/Malaysian/local tertiary institution joint venture in Suzhou, China which was seen and resourced by the HK side

As part of the government curriculum students are required to study a compulsory higher mathematics course (which is far in advance of anything I've studied at high school in Maths I and Maths II). This course was rigorously taught and examined albeit not to a national standard exam. Of course there was also a compulsory politics and society course, which is mostly taken by the students as a chance to tune out and nap. The examinations are well projected and students provided with model answers. Clearly no one takes it seriously. By contrast the politically correct curriculum of Australian schools appears seen as the raison d'etre and teachers treat it accordingly.

And so it was that I listened with interest to the press conference announcing the long delayed Gonski Report on Education in Australia. First of all was the promise that 'no school would lose a dollar of funding per student'. That seems an entirely political statement you wouldn't expect from a politically neutral report.

In China there is no universal education system. There never was. Instead there was a separate fee-based system in which the state owned businesses and government departments paid for the fees of the children of their employees. If you did not work for the government you paid your own fees. The better the school the higher the fees. The higher the government department or state owned enterprise, the better the school their employee’s children attended.

The standards at these schools vary. In the major urban centres schools are set up in a hierarchical manner with major state, provincial, and metropolitan schools leading the pack. Then for those who can’t make it, the private schools take up the slack. Many of the private schools are run by the state schools and universities trading on their name and raking in extra cash.

In poor rural villages where students could not afford to pay fees, the local collective or village pays for the school. Poorly paid, educated and under resourced teachers struggle to make a difference with students who are often pulled out of school to attend to farm work. Today the government is beginning to see the importance of proper educational funding for the countryside to reduce the potential for dissatisfaction and to ensure the best students are identified and streamed into better schools. In the cities parents struggle, as they do in the west, to get their children into the best schools and pay the fees any way they can. Often the whole family will contribute hoping to get a member of the family into the government elite who profit from economic rent and are obliged to spread it around the family. In my development here in Suzhou there are a number of families one might identify as from the village, or at least to be parents and relatives of rich officials.

When I was at school in Beijing in the 70’s the education system had just been restored and while I was sharing a room with a student selected on his social class and political credentials, a new group of students arrived who had passed exams. The tension was informative. The gongnongbing students, or those selected from amongst working class, peasants and soldiers, were looked down on by the xinzhishifenzi, or new intellectuals. Like everything in China however the names do not always match the reality. My roommate, ostensibly selected from among the peasant class, was actually the son of a senior PLA general who lived in the same complex as Deng Xiaoping. He had been ‘adopted’ by a family of farmers, perhaps relatives, in order to qualify. It was clear many other students came from similar backgrounds.

An interesting note was struck by some of these New Intellectuals who praised the exam system saying it would result in a decrease in the number of women attending university as the old system had insisted on a 50:50 split of male and female. Within ten years of the exam system being implemented the government was pondering the problem of how to get more male students into university because women were performing better and out numbering men by a significant majority. At this rate it would be very hard to find enough men for government positions the government sources complained!

At our school, the Beijing Language Institute (now the Beijing University of Language & Culture), our teachers had responsibilities outside the classroom as well as in. Indeed the teachers specifically in charge of our Australian cohort were called our Responsible Persons (fuzeren). Should any of us miss a class, or perform poorly in class, we would be visited by the classroom teacher, in addition to our responsible teacher. The reason for our transgression would be investigated and the teachers would offer to help us. They made it clear that our satisfactory performance was their responsibility. Should we continue to miss classes or perform poorly the visits would continue but we would have to take more responsibility and write a confession, or self-criticism (ziwopiping), which demonstrated our contrition and an understanding that we had to attend classes regularly and abide by the teacher’s direction. In other words it was a form of social contract between the school and the student both sides bore responsibility. There were no authoritarian head masters, but major infractions such as attacking local students resulted in immediate repatriation.

Although teachers in China are legendary for their care for their students, and vice versa, there are examples of poor teachers who just put on a video and leave the students to watch it. The moral standards for teachers are high as well. In my school a married teacher, who was very high in the school party apparatus and also widely loved, was dismissed due to reports he was seen out together with another teacher! School leaders insisted teachers set a moral example. Interestingly many of the local teachers insisted that what teachers did in their private time was no business of the school! In Australia you have to sleep with one of the students to be sacked!

So the central question is how can Chinese teachers teach better on much less money and resources? Dedication? Tradition? Student discipline these days is not what it was. The 'Little Emperors' of China have no automatic respect for teachers. Indeed they have the arrogance of the nouveau riche in demanding their certificate since they paid their fees regardless of the effort put in! School officials spend a lot of their time defending their teachers against rich and or powerful bullies demanding to know why their child was failed (he didn't submit assignments or attend enough classes usually). The rich threaten to sue the school. The powerful say they will have it closed down. The traditional respect for education in China is much threatened.

A possible suggestion for the superior performance of Chinese schools (at least the elite schools in the major cities) is the competitive nature of the Chinese school system in which the best fight for a place in the elite schools. As we all know from the 50's on in Australia we sought to destroy a merit based education system in order to attain equality of educational outcomes. The same number of poor students should finish Y12 as rich students. In China, paradoxically, there is no obsession with a social class based education system as is still displayed in the Gonski Report. It is a merit-based system. As a result China has leaders of extraordinary ability and intelligence who are unfailingly guiding China back to its normal position as the pre-eminent power in the world. Meanwhile, since the Wyndham Report in NSW, Australia has unerringly declined from top of the OEDC countries to the bottom. Is there a lesson there?

Generally I can say that the Gonski Report could have been the same one submitted to Whitlam, or that submitted by Harold Wyndham to the NSW government in 1957 i.e. an extension of class war politics. Even now the comment by nearly all educationalists is the urgent need to address the lack of equality or fairness in the measured outcomes analyzed on a social class basis. There should be a cognizance that we have been addressing this problem by various means since 1950 without closing the gap. A more realistic approach would be to place extra resources where they are needed, both at the level of disadvantage and also at ensuring the top group of students received the most challenging education available globally.

The resulting emphasis on equality of outcomes resulted in a ridiculous system of pre-HSC exams designed to rate the school, so that when applied to the HSC results, each school had an equal share of A's, B's, C' etc. This was a nice bureaucratic solution, which had nothing go do with educational outcomes. Universities insisted on raw scores for admission purposes thus exposing the corrupt nature of the 'trick'.

Finally one must say that the Australian obsession with equality of outcomes in education is odd in a capitalist country in which income disparity is generally wide. It seems to be a denial of the capitalist nature of country by our educationalists. It seems a denial of human nature to expect equality of outcome in education when it is not manifest in any other form of human life.

One aspect common in Chinese schools, which is totally lacking in Australia as far as I know, is that each semester the students are surveyed on their satisfaction with each teacher for each subject. This survey covers such things as punctuality, helpfulness, good communicator, covered topic, allowed participation, as well as general topics about school facilities. The results of the survey weigh heavily on the teacher’s evaluation and at the end of the year the teacher’s bonus is based on this as well a peer evaluation. I was a member of the teacher’s union at the school and of course the union supported such surveys. I can’t see any Australian teachers union allowing such evaluations as they are opposed to any merit based system of teacher evaluation and appear to oppose any moves toward continuous education for teachers. They certainly motivated teachers to maintain professional standards as well as satisfying the student desire to enhance the learning environment.

If there is anything to learn from China it is that the thirty years of human disaster resulted from the same idealism and desire for equality. Stalinist socialism didn’t work there, it did work anywhere in the world. In China in the 1980’s it was systematically undone and an exam based system implemented. The search for the best and brightest does not stop at the school system. Twice every year the government will hold open exams in major centres for those who aspire to work in the government. Of course the system does have ‘Chinese characteristics’ a good score alone is not enough to gain admission to government employment, there is a personal interview, and of course ‘good references’ or background also will be considered.

No one suggests we imitate China. Their excellent performance is due to a highly selective system, national standards and rigorously supervised exams, dedicated and responsible teachers, highly motivated students, and an educational philosophy aimed at teaching to the highest world standards with only the slightest nod to political correctness. But we might learn from that.

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